Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Monument Valley 50 - 2016


Well, I managed to talk Brenda into taking an extra day off of work, so we packed up the mini-van, picked the girls up from school and hit the road.  After overnighting in Durango and spending the day at Mesa Verde, we finally made it to Monument Valley late in the afternoon.  With the light softening, the rocks were magnificent.  We hung around for a bit as the girls each ate a Navajo taco and a fresh made pizza.  I also got to catch up briefly with various UA crew members and retrieve stuff I had left behind at Antelope Canyon (thanks Turd’l).


We stayed the night in Mexican Hat so I had to drag everyone out of bed for the early start.  As with the 100, the previous year, we started the morning off with a Navajo prayer/blessing just before the sun rose.


It was pretty chilly at the start, with overnight temps down in the low 40’s.  I ran into Katrin and David (who took some lovely pics of our family).  A few minutes before the start, I booted up my Garmin, only to have it beep back at me that the battery was dead.  #$%^&*()!!  I had charged it just before leaving home, but it must have gotten banged around and switched on.  I stripped it off my wrist in disgust and handed it off to Brenda, along with my warm overclothes.  Oh well, I would just have to run by feel.  I would anyway, but I like to know where I’m at mileage wise and how far it is to the next aid station.



Monument Valley is the most scenic race that Ultra Adventures puts on, and that’s saying a lot as all of their race venues are spectacular.  Last year, during the 100, I had shot more pictures than on any other race.  Though I was a bit disappointed at not having the 100 mile option this year, it would be cool to see the course in a different light - literally.  The course was basically the last half of the 100, run backwards.  I would get to see the area that I wandered through by myself during the middle of the night.  And wow, did things look different in the light of day.



At the first aid station, Brigham’s Tomb, one of the local dogs took off and followed me.  He wound up running right by my side for the net 8 miles.  A couple of times he was so close that he tripped me up, though luckily I didn’t fall.  I kept up a pretty good pace in this section and he never slowed, even in the deep sand.



By the time I got to the East Mitten aid station, the runners had dispersed quite a bit and I was out on my own most of the way.  It was kind of nice to head into the 3 Sisters/Hogan aid station, as it was crowded with energetic supporters.


Katrin on her way to resetting her course record!

Part way around the first loop, I started to catch up to the 50K’ers and I was still running strong.  Back to 3 Sisters and I was pleasantly surprised by Brenda and the girls.  I didn’t stop for long, but it’s always great to see them in the middle of a race.


3 Sister/Hogan aid station in the distance

Unfortunately, soon after I started out on the second, longer loop, I started to slow down.  I thought that I had been pacing myself pretty well, but I just didn’t have the endurance.  When I got to the sand dunes, I could see a runner far behind and by the time I got to the last arch, he had caught up.  I don’t like being passed in the second half of a race, but there was not much I could do, so I tried to relax and enjoy the magnificent scenery.  It was getting pretty warm now and I was glad to have taken on a second bottle for this long loop as I drained both by the end.


Back to 3 Sisters, where I saw Brenda and the girls again.  I resupplied and told them to take my drop bag so I wouldn’t have to leave anything behind.

the climb up Mitchell Mesa
There was quite a bit more traffic now as many of the 50K’ers were coming back down off Mitchell Mesa.  I made a quick stop at the bottom to refill my bottle and headed up.  The climb was slow and hot.  I wished I had brought more water, not that I really wanted to carry a second bottle again.  50K runners were going both ways and right after the start of the climb, 50 milers started to come down.  I counted, and figured I was in 6th or 7th place, with the guy that had passed me on the previous loop not far ahead.


another 50 miler chasing me up Mitchell Mesa

The views from the top of the mesa were magnificent, though last year, with the setting sun, the colors and shadows were even more spectacular.  I punched my bib at the turn-a-round and headed back across the mesa.


at the top of Mitchell Mesa!

I’m normally pretty good at technical descents, but I still wasn’t moving as fast as I would have liked.  After another refill of water at the base, I headed back towards 3 Sisters.  Brenda and the girls were gone at this point so I just loaded up on ice and water and hit the road towards the finish.

There was a bit of car traffic on the road, but not nearly as bad as I would have thought and only a couple of areas where the dust kicked up.  Part of the road had been graveled and they were spraying down the dirt as I was running.

Without a GPS, I wasn’t sure of the distance or time.  I had asked back at the aid station and felt like I had a decent shot at breaking 9 hours, but it would be close.  My pace was not improving.  I looked back and at times could see the next 50 miler, slowly catching up.

I pushed as much as I could and was relieved to see the final climb in the distance.  It was rather slow going, climbing up that road, but I pushed on and was joined by my girls for the few hundred feet to the finish.  I couldn't slow down at all as I was still being chased, crossing the line in 8:56, less than a couple of minutes ahead of number 7.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stick around the finish line to enjoy the festivities, or to watch Katrin finish not long after me (and reset her own course record).  We headed to our van, where I discreetly changed and then hit the road for a 5 hour drive down to Scottsdale to visit family.

I’m pretty lucky to have gotten to see this magnificent area again.  As great as all of UA’s races are, this one is extra special because of the endless scenery, and the fact that you can’t experience it any other way.  It’s all Navajo land.  A small portion of the course can be driven or hiked.  Other portions of the course can be enjoyed by hiring a guide.  The rest of the course is simply inaccessible to all but the Navajo people, and very few of them ever get out there.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Antelope Canyon 50 - 2016

I was slightly disappointed that I wouldn’t get to run the 100 miler again, but the 50 mile “sprint” would actually work better into my training plan.

Despite the SAND, Antelope Canyon is one of my favorite races, with scenery only slightly surpassed by Monument Valley.  With my focus clearly directed at training for a real push at the 24 hour races, I went into AC somewhat lackadaisicaly.  I ran one of my best 6 mile tempo runs the Tuesday before the race, followed up by a pretty serious cross/strength training session later that night.  And although I recover pretty quickly, come race day, I was still feeling some lingering effects.  I was still hoping I could break 8:30, but it wasn’t a serious goal and I decided to take my camera along.  It seems sacrilegious to run an Ultra Adventures race without a camera (the only one that I did was Capitol Reef, and that was because my stupid camera died).

Anyway, I was pretty sure that unless I resorted to actual crawling, I would have no trouble in beating Ultra Signup’s predictions for me - 11:59:39, 44th overall, and 21st male.

I left Lakewood Thursday after work and made my way down through South Park, since I-70 was still closed through Glenwood Canyon.  The travel time might be pretty close, but I certainly prefer to be on a major interstate at night - much less chance of wildlife.  Additionally, as I drove across the high plains, the wind kicked up fiercely and snow started to fall (sideways).  I later learned that just up the road from where I drove, a new wind record was set at 148 mph on Monarch Pass.

My plan was to spend the night somewhere in Durango, but driving through, I didn’t see any place that looked good to park and sleep, and I was enjoying the audio version of A Storm of Swords (3rd book in the Game of Thrones series), so I drove on.  Finally coming into Cortez, I was just too tired to continue, so I pulled into a Walmart parking lot, set up my cozy bed in the back of the Subaru and went to sleep.  As I dozed off, I had lingering memories of being woken up by flashlights and shotguns pointing at me a year earlier as I slept in a truck stop with the entire state of Utah on a serious manhunt.

No such troubles this night.  I got up pretty early and drove to the nearest McDonald’s.  After a quick toothbrushing, potty break, and a large cup of coffee, I was on my way.

I pulled into Page mid morning and tried to make myself semi-useful.  I helped a bit with tent setups, food inventories, and then ended up as the information guy in front of the maps.  This was fun as most runners had never been out here before and I was able to give them real world feedback from my race the previous year.

I wound up crashing by 8 PM and got a decent night’s sleep.  Getting race ready in the back of the Subaru is a bit tight, but I’ve gotten pretty adept at it.  Unfortunately, my legs were still a bit tight from Tuesday’s hard workouts so as I was putting on my shoes, my left calf cramped up painfully.  That is not the way you want to start a 50 mile race.

You know the wise old saying “always try something new on race day”?  Well, at the last minute, I decided to don a pair of Brooks that I had never run a single mile in.  I typically use them at the gym, but I had worn them standing around the previous day and noticed that I had minimal sand infiltration.  Additionally, I heard people talking about duct taping their shoes to keep sand out, so I figured I’d try that too.


After slathering on a healthy amount of extremely cold sunscreen, I was off to the starting line.  It was downright chilly out there.  I was still wearing my pre-race pants and a heavy, hooded sweatshirt, standing by a roaring fire, and I was still cold.  I got to see Katrin Silva while waiting for the final few minutes.  Ultra Signup had her finishing over an hour ahead of me.

Soon enough, we were off.  Heading east, up a loose sandy hill, on a path that was only a few runners wide.  I slogged through the sand and didn’t pay much heed to all those that were fighting towards the front.  With 50 miles to go, the effort of trying to gain a few seconds now was beyond futile.

We made a U-turn, down the hill, across the highway, and started climbing the first slickrock mesa.  With over 200 runners, the view back down showed a slithering snake of light.  I’m never able to get a good photo of these scenes, but for anyone who has not experienced it in person, it’s a pretty cool sight.

Lots of runners were still fighting to pass me on the ascent (stay tuned for my upcoming blog page on pacing), but by the time we started dropping down the other side, everyone had pretty much settled into a pace.  The sky started to slowly lighten as everyone weaved back and forth along the sandy double-tracks, trying to find the firmest path.  We soon arrived at Owl Canyon and made our way between the slickrock walls.  Everyone around was ooing and aahhing as we shimmied our way through the slots.

Out we popped above the rock, and back to more sand, before we dropped back down to Antelope wash and our first aid station.  I went through pretty quickly as I didn’t need much.  The wide wash spread out before us and again, everyone meandered left and right, trying to find the firmest footing.  It seemed like we were only halfway through when we started seeing the leaders already coming back.



Eventually, we saw the sandstone cliff looming ahead, with the thin, narrow crack that we were about to enter.  Antelope Canyon seemed to be a bit darker than the previous year.  Maybe I ran faster and got here earlier?  Unfortunately, my stupid camera had been set to auto flash, so after being blinded by the first photo attempt, I gave up, as I couldn’t see the faded buttons well enough to fix it.  Instead, I just enjoyed the majesty of this place, while trying not to whack my head into the rock.  All too soon, we were out the back end and trudging our way up a hill of more loose sand.



After a short traverse, we dropped back down into Tumbleweed canyon.  Only slightly wider than Antelope, it was much brighter and just as pretty to experience.  Once out the other side, we made our way back down Antelope wash.  With a slight downhill, and the wind now at our backs, the return seemed so much easier.  There were still runners coming up the wash, but their numbers dwindled as we approached the Antelope aid station again.  From here, we followed the same route back up the sand hill, down into Owl Canyon, and back along sandy double-tracks.  I ran bits with others in this section and I overheard a guy mentioning that it was his first 50 miler.  The person he was next to, smartly suggested that he pace himself properly, especially given all the sand.  His reply was “I can’t run slow.  I only run fast, or walk”.  I just felt like pulling up alongside and smacking him upside the head.  “Give it a few hours.  You’ll figure out how to run slow” I wanted to say.  But I kept my stupid mouth shut.

Back up to the top of the first mesa that we had climbed in the early morning darkness and we made a left turn, heading off of the morning’s route.  I though the Slickrock station was closer, but it wasn’t.  The sun had climbed, along with the temperature and I now had my long-sleeved shirt around my waist.  One of the UA ambassadors, Brita, was at the aid station and I realized she was taking drop items from runners, so I threw my shirt, gloves, buff, and flashlight into the bag.  It was still early, but I now felt like I was ready to run!  I headed out of the aid station with a whoop.

Through the notch in the slickrock, up the sand, over the sandy mesa, and down the sandy trail.  This is where I started to see the lead 55K runners, and surprisingly enough, Travis wasn’t too far behind.  He gave me a hard time because he saw that Katrin was ahead of me, so I lashed back with “Why don’t you run a manly distance?”.  It was all in good fun and I hope those within earshot didn’t take it too seriously.  I would never insult anyone for running a 55K, unless of course, it was tattoo necked Travis.

I popped into the aid station, filled my bottle, grabbed a couple of items from my drop bag, and headed out.  This was my first mistake of the day.  I was heading into the longest stretch between aid stations, during the full heat of the day.  I should have gulped down my fill of fluids before heading out, but I didn’t.  It probably cost me a few minutes overall, but not as bad as it could have been on a hotter day.



I saw Katrin as soon as I got down to the edge - and by edge, I mean EDGE, as in a 2,000 foot vertical drop, straight down to the Colorado River, right at the Horseshoe Bend.  Katrin and I chatted for just a couple of minutes before I pulled away.  I commented on her unbloodied knees and she acknowledged the fact that she was being rather cautious on the rough and uneven sandstone.



This part of the race course is absolutely my favorite.  Running inches away from the precipice, with one of the most magnificent natural wonders on the planet just over your right shoulder is just un-freaking believable.  I took a few pictures, but not as many as last year.  The bright, cloudless sky made for too much contrast and I was still somewhat in racing mode.  This section is also not very fast.  There are lots of twists and turns, as well as vertical rises and dips, and with some of the flour arrows fading, a little bit of care was sometimes needed to stay on course.



I hooked up with John Gamble from South Carolina for most of this stretch.  Four eyes are better than two at finding trail markers, and we also pushed each other along a bit at times.  By the time we hit the south side of this little peninsula, we started catching up to the tail end 55Kers.  Most were in great spirits, enjoying the majesty of their surroundings.  We also managed to reel in a few 50 milers.  Not long after I licked the final drops of fluid from my empty bottle, we crossed the road at the Waterholes aid station.  This time, I got a long drink, and then refilled my bottle again.

The drop down into Waterholes is a bit of a steep scramble, but luckily not too long.  Once down, the coolness and shade of the canyon felt good.  I didn’t move though quite as quickly as I could have, slowing to take a few pictures and enjoy the last slot canyon of the day.



Once out the other side, I slowly made my way up the loose sand, but once on top, I started to push the pace.  Most of this section is on a sandy road that rolls generally downhill back towards the Horseshoe Bend aid station.  I started to do some calculations and to my surprise, I figured out that I still had a shot at an 8:30 finish, though it would be pretty tight.  This insight, along with the gravity assist, gave my legs the extra speed as I flew past 55Kers and also passed a number of 50 milers.

Back at Horseshoe Bend, I was feeling good and went through the aid station pretty quickly.  I climbed back up the sandy double-track to the top of the mesa, went across the top quicker than I had expected and dropped down the other side to Slickrock.  Another quick stop and off I went towards the Page Rim Loop.

I made it to the Page Rim aid station a couple of minutes ahead of my self imposed cut off, thus keeping that 8:30 goal still within reach.  All I had to do now was run 10 slightly rolling miles in less than 1:30.  I got off to a great start with a few miles at well under 9 minutes, but by the time I got to the Lake Powell aid station, I was getting tired.  My legs, and especially my calves, were feeling the effects of 30 miles of sand, Tuesday’s tough training, and my never-before-run-in shoes.

My sub-9 minute miles turned into 10+ minute miles and my legs were more than ready for the finish line.  The realization that 8:30 was slipping away didn’t help my motivation, but I motored on.  As I passed through Page Rim aid again, I stopped to pick up my drop bag - the extra seconds wouldn’t matter at this point, and I didn’t want to have to go back for it later.

I dropped down off the rim as more runners were climbing up.  I jogged through the final section of sand, up to the back of the stage, through the break in the slickrock, and out onto the finish chute with a final time of 8:46:36.  Good enough for 12th overall and gender, 4th in my age group.  more than 3 hours ahead of Ultra Signup’s prediction and way better than the 44th place they had me ranked at.



Though not quite a perfect day, I was pretty pleased overall.  I got to see a bunch of friends at the finish and not too long after, Katrin came through as the 2nd female.  Travis and I gave each other some crap while I downed a few beverages and an entire honey dew.  There were way more runners this year, and unlike last year’s 100, where I finished alone, in the middle of the night, the finish area was crowded and active.  It would have been cool to just hang out for a while, but I gathered up my stuff and hit the road.


Overall, it was another awesome UA race.  It’s unfortunate that we can’t run through Antelope Canyon just 30 minutes later when it brightens up a bit, but I guess I could always stay at the back of the pack if I really wanted to.  The sand didn’t bother me nearly as much this year, perhaps because of the shoes, but also because I was better mentally prepared.  The aid stations were awesome, with more choices than any other race organization provides.  I also liked the finish area.  Matt has made it a place where people want to hang out with family, friends, and fellow runners.

My calves definitely felt the effects of the sand and the shoes.  Though able to run by Monday, I wasn’t really 100% for a week.  Now it’s time to get ready for Monument Valley!!
 


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Motivation

What is the key to maintaining a high level of motivation throughout the year (especially now, during the “off-season”)?

That is the million dollar question.  And the answer (at least for me) is that there is no single answer.  I use somewhat of a shotgun approach - many, small motivating factors that inspire me at different times and in different ways.

photo by Israel Archuletta
If you want to reinvigorate your running, go out when no one else will, like during a downpour, or a blizzard.  Don’t expect great performances on these days, but they can make you feel alive.  About a month ago, we had a decent snowstorm, where the whole City was on a delayed start.  I couldn’t sleep, so I wound up going to work extra early, and to break up the long day, I went out for my typical lunch time run.  It was way slower than usual, as even on the plowed bike paths, there was 2-6” of snow, but it felt great.  I was the only nutcase out there and got lots of stares and honks from passing vehicles.  It’s kind of like being a kid again and just running freely, splashing through the puddles.

Motivation means making training a priority.  I put all of my trainings runs (and cross training workouts) on my Outlook calendar.  I make the items “private” and set the time to “free” so that I’m not actually interfering with my job, but unless a meeting comes up, I know that lunch time is set aside for a run.  Same thing for my evening runs or workouts.  Putting these items on the calendar forces me to have to opt out of a training, rather than facing the free time and having to find the motivation to opt in.  I’ll sometimes reward myself after a good training run, or even after a slow one that I struggled to complete.  I’ll treat myself to a chocolate bar or a pastry.  Sure, it negates much of the caloric benefit of the training, but not the fitness benefit.

Run with a partner or a group if you can.  The vast majority of my training miles are run alone, but when I’m around on Thursday evenings, I run with the Belmar Running Club (check with your local running store for a club near you).  Once in awhile, I’ll get pulled along at a pretty fast pace, but most of the time, I look at these runs as social/recovery runs and just enjoy chatting with like minded people.  If you can, find a training partner with similar abilities and goals.  If you and your partner are too far apart in fitness levels, running on a track, or side by side treadmills can work despite differences in speed.

I really enjoy races (especially when I do well), therefore I register for races well in advance (also because I’m a cheap SOB and want to get the early bird pricing).  Having these races on my calendar months in advance is a serious commitment and gives me a real sense of purpose and focus during my trainings.

I tend to run many races throughout the year (usually 25+).  This way, if a have a bad day, It’s not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, and I have another race to focus on within the next month or so.  I can’t get demoralized for too long with a single bad performance.  I know there are plenty of folks out there who focus on a single race, but for me that’s just too much of a gamble and way too much pressure.  I’ve seen some of the best runners in the world have bad days and if you happen to have one of those bad days on your one and only goal race day...

Set a huge, motivational goal, far enough into the future to make it achievable, then focus on the short term accomplishments and celebrate every single mini-milestone.  I tend to have pretty lofty (and many times unrealistic goals), but I know that about myself so I don’t get too distraught when I fail.  This year, I’ve set a goal for myself to run 150 miles in 24 hours.  Having never run over 137, that’s a pretty tall order, but it’s not completely outside of the realm of possibilities (though it sure is close to the edge).  Sometimes, when I’m pushing extra hard at the end of a tempo run, or a fartlek sprint, I’ll imagine that I’m close and pushing for that 150 mile mark.  Silly, but these little mental games do help.  Now, this is a pretty singular goal, but to avoid the “all the eggs in one basket” conundrum that I previously mentioned, I’m giving myself one “practice” 24 hour race early in the season, and 2 serious goal races in the fall and early winter, when I should be in prime shape.

Sometimes, a little negative motivation can work also.  My first race of 2014 was the 52 mile Coldwater Rumble, which became my first DNF (did not finish) at mile 40.  Though I had long since stopped collecting race bibs, I posted this one prominently on my office wall, as a reminder of what I didn’t want to happen again.  A year later, after having run well on the 100 mile version of the race, I felt great satisfaction in ripping it down and throwing it in the trash. Now I’m not the type of person who normally holds a grudge, but having been turned down for a couple of teams, I get a certain level of satisfaction when I outrun one of their members at a race.  I also use that as a bit of a mental whip in trainings - if I want to show them what they missed out on, I need to really push myself.


Running Log!  Track your progress!

My running log is one of my biggest motivating factors (please feel free to copy my log and modify it to your own needs if you would like).  I track lots of stats about my running and I really look forward to entering in the numbers on the spreadsheet after every run.  Though I use Garmin Connect for all my runs, weight, and other workouts, I also use a simple spreadsheet log.  I started the spreadsheet before I had a Garmin, so it’s got a bit more historical data, plus it’s much more customizable to my needs (I wish Garmin was listening to this).  I changed from Excel to Google Sheets a couple of years ago and have never looked back - it’s free, shareable, easily accessible from all computers and devices, and handles time better (especially when dealing with time duration, as opposed to time of day).  At a glance, I can see how many races I’ve run over the years, daily, weekly, yearly, and total mileage, upcoming races, etc.

I have two cells for each day (and weekly totals).  The second cells are for actual mileage, but the first shows my planned mileage in light grey text.  I’ll enter in the mileage of any upcoming races for the year, as well as my anticipated training miles for at least a few weeks out.  I’m typically conservative with these guestimates, so it adds to the positive reinforcement when I surpass them.

In addition to tracking daily mileage (I don’t really separate out multiple daily runs, unless I have 2 races in a day), I total up weekly and yearly mileage.  Having 9 years of data, I can look back on previous years and see my improvements.  Early in the year, my total mileage is pretty uninspiring, but I can look back at how it compares to the same time in previous years and see that I really am pushing my limits.  Increased mileage is a pretty simple, yet powerful motivation.  Especially for new runners, mileage and pace will increase rapidly and should provide great inspiration.  For longer term runners, those improvements may be pretty minimal, so tracking other progress may be beneficial.

A few years ago, I started tracking weeks where I went over 50 miles, then 75, and 100.  I highlight those weekly totals, as well as tracking the number of those weeks within a year.  If I’m close to a benchmark (50, 75, or 100), it can provide just a little bit of an added push to run that extra couple of miles, or force myself out on a crappy weather day.

This year, like last, I committed to more speed work (both fartleks and tempo runs), so on my log, I’ve assigned a different color to each, and can now see at a glance if I’ve met my goal of 2 to 3 speed workouts per week.  Also, since most of my tempo runs are on the same course, I use a separate sheet to track my pace/mile and total time.  That way, I can see how I’m (hopefully) improving over time.  When I do have a breakthrough training run, I feel re-energized and that 150 mile goal seems so achievable.  Now don’t expect to see progress every day, or even every week.  The body needs time to process the repeated training and recovery into actual improvements.  You will typically see cyclical improvements every 2 to 4 weeks depending on your workouts and schedule.

I’ve got a progress sheet on the spreadsheet that I used to track my placement on races that I ran for multiple years.  I don’t really use it much anymore since I’ve switched to ultras, but it can be beneficial.  At a quick glance, I can see how my placement improved over the years.  Big races like the Colfax Marathon, Bolder Boulder, or Denver Marathon, can be pretty telling, as the overall field doesn’t change that much.  Smaller races can be quite misleading since all it takes is a few fast runners to knock you down from 10% to 30% in the standings, so be careful not to beat yourself up unnecessarily (or take undue credit).  Also, in the Pikes Peak region, we have a free 2 mile race every month (the Nielson Challenge).  I don’t get to run this very often anymore (when I do, it’s pacing my daughter), but if you can run an event like this frequently, track the results and your progress.

Over on the right hand of the spreadsheet, I’ll sometimes track my “lap” time and placement for races.  If the race involves repetitive laps, I like to see how I paced myself.  Proper pacing is a big goal, and one of my main strengths, so I like to see if I came close to negative splitting the course.  I also like to see how I placed throughout the race (when that data is available).  Leadville 2015 was a great pacing example.  Though I didn’t meet my time goal or run negative splits, slowly climbing my way up from 173rd place at May Queen to 22nd by the finish was a huge accomplishment and a victory in itself.  The 2015 Javelina Jundred is another example.  I again didn’t meet my time goal, but I can see how my placement went from 111th to 17th over the course of the race.  I also slowed down more than I had hoped, but I did much better than most.  This kind of data reassures me that I’m doing something right, even if my overall time wasn’t great.  It also gives me confidence early in an ultra when so many runners are zipping on by me.

With the exception of a small amount of negative reinforcement, focus on the positive.  Find the data points that excite and motivate you - time, distance, pace, race placement (overall, gender, age group), number of races, etc.  Dream big, but celebrate all of the incremental improvements.

What motivates you?  I’d love to hear other ideas.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Plan for 2016

So, “what’s the plan for 2016?”, I keep being asked.  Well, here it is…

First of all, I’m thrilled to be an ambassador for  Ultra Adventures for a second year.  The race venues are just so incredible.  I’m really looking forward to revisiting some of the locations, though this year I will be running more of the 50 milers.

I am also happy to be an ambassador for Honey Stinger and nuun.  I’ve been continuously refining my fueling and hydration over the years and both of these products play a significant role.  I love Honey Stinger waffles, as they have a nice balance of carbs and fat, early and late in an ultra.  I also like their chews as a quick, carb loaded energy boost.  Hydration wise, I like the fact that nuun gives me an easily portable option with good, mild flavors that deliver crucial electrolytes, without the heaviness of a sugary, calorie laden drink.  I use nuun on my summer lunch time runs, as well as during the midday heat of an ultra.

Back to the running - Due to a number of circumstances, some out of my control, I will be running fewer 100 milers - possibly only 5 or 6, and three of those will be 24 hour races, which I plan to really focus on this year.

What’s the difference between a hundred miler and a 24 hour race, you ask?  My personal opinion is that 24 hour races  are much tougher, both mentally and physically.  It’s pretty obvious to most that running hundreds of repetitive loops would be hard on the old psyche, but it’s not as obvious that it would be more physically demanding, after all, we’re dealing with minimal vertical gain, as opposed to 5,000’ to 20,000’, and there are no ankle-breaking rocks along the way.  Unfortunately, the climbs and variation in the ground actually helps the body to get through it.  On a typical trail race, my pace may range from 7 to 30 minutes/mile.  On a timed, loop course, my pace may only vary between 9 and 11 minutes/mile.  That minimal variation is tough on the body - stride length is always the same, foot placement is always the same, etc.  People don’t get carpal tunnel syndrome because typing is strenuous.  They get it because of the endless repetition that wears the body down.  It’s the same thing with running - lack of variation hurts!

So what am I going to do to better transition from hundred milers to 24 hour races?  First, I need to change my footwear.  My minimal Saucony’s have done great on the trail, but the repetitive pounding (especially on pavement) is just too much.  I also don’t need the “control” of a snug shoe that’s required to maneuver technical downhills.  I’m switching to Altras, as they have both the cushioning to take the pounding, and the wide toe-box to allow my toes to wiggle freely.  I used Altras on most of the Desert Solstice, though I made the mistake of pairing them up with compression socks, which led to some nasty toe blisters.

Training wise, I’m going to focus more on speed.  I know, averaging 9 to 10 minute miles doesn’t sound like “speed”, but it’s considerably faster than 12 to 15 minute/miles on a typical trail hundred.  I need to push myself to do more speed work in my trainings and reduce the number of “junk” miles.  I’m also going to be doing more short/fast races, aka 50 milers.

2015 was an awesome year, and I am hoping to make 2016 even better!  My list of races for 2016 is as follows (Leadville is a notable exclusion from the list, since I did not get into the lottery this year):
Feb 20, Antelope Canyon 50M
Mar 19, Monument Valley 50M
April 2, Behind the Rocks 50M
April 8, Zion 100M
April 30, Cornbelt Running Club 24 Hour Track Run
May 21, Grand Canyon 50M
June 17, Bryce 100M
*July 10, Silver Rush 50M
Aug 6, Tushars 93K
*Sept 17, North Coast 24 Hour
Oct 14-16, Grand Circle Trailfest
*Dec 17, Desert Solstice 24 Hour Track Invitational

* Goal Races
Some may be clever enough to figure out a couple of my hidden goals based on the list of races ;-)

Thank you again to nuun, Honey Stinger, and especially Ultra Adventures!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The (Running) Year in Review


2015 totals:
+/- 3,300 miles
18 ultras, including 13 hundred milers
6 podium finishes, including 3 wins
137.75 mile distance PR

I started 2015 with some lofty goals.  In addition to a few race specific time goals (most of which I failed to meet), I somehow came up with the idea of running 12 100 mile races in 12 months.  It started innocently enough, by just perusing the list of 100 mile races on run100s.com.  The crazy dream became more feasible once I got accepted as an ambassador for Ultra Adventures.  They would be putting on 7 of my 12 goal races, though as it turned out, they cancelled the last 100 miler due to low registration.
The Grand Circle Trail Series
Number one was the Coldwater Rumble in Phoenix.  This was going to be a big start, mentally, as well as physically.  Running a 102 mile race in January, only a couple of weeks after the holidays would be tough enough, but I had started 2014 with my first ever DNF at the 52 mile distance at Coldwater.  I really had something to prove!  Though not quite the perfect execution, I did have a decent race, helped along on the last two laps by my friend and pacer, Rick Valentine.  With no placement goal, I found myself in 3rd place by the second half of the race, and through an inexplicable drop, managed to finish 2nd.  Not a bad way to start off the year, and a big thumb in the nose of the DNF demons.


With very little speed training, and only 2 weeks after Coldwater, I was talked into joining the Flatirons Running Cross Country Team for the 8K National Championships.  Having never run a real cross country race, I figured “what the hey..”, ran pretty consistent laps, and managed to beat my goal by a few seconds.


Two weeks after that came the first UA race, Antelope Canyon.  I was not well prepared for the endless SAND in the first 40 miles and should have paced myself better, but still managed to finish 3rd overall, while enjoying some of the most spectacular scenery in the country.


With a mere 3 weeks of rest, though riding high off my early successes, I headed to Monument Valley for my 3rd 100 and the second UA race.  I was better mentally prepared for the sand and the uninterrupted scenery distracted me from the effort.  Less than a quarter of the way into the race, I somehow found myself already in second place and tracking the leader’s footprints in the soft sand.  Though I fell apart somewhat in the last 20 miles after having lost the course for a bit, I managed to hold on for my first ever 100 mile win.  My 3rd 100 and I had already stood on all the podium steps!


With a luxurious 4 weeks of rest and riding high on my early successes, I headed to UA’s Zion race with my head in the clouds.  Unfortunately, that’s where it stayed for the duration of the race.  I got cocky and made every stupid mistake that I should have known not to make.  I struggled mentally and physically after the first 40 miles and was only slapped back to reality when after complaining to a friend, he replied “hey, we’re only halfway through and you’re 10 miles ahead of me”.  That’s stuck in my mind ever since then and I’m way more conscious of my attitude.  But, as if to add a final insult to my injury, I sprinted the final 2 miles to break the 23 hour mark, only to discover that my GPS and the race clock were off by just enough to give me an official time of 23:00:04.


I tried to shake it off and after 2 weeks of rest, hit the trails at Cheyenne Mountain for a 50K in my own back yard.  I was only a couple of minutes off after the first lap and attributed it to my awesome pacing job, with the full expectation that I would fly through the second lap.  Unfortunately, my body had different plans and I wound up finishing more than 45 minutes behind last year’s time.

Two lousy races in a row.  What happened to my awesome start?  Was I a washed up, has been, yesterday’s news ultra runner already?  Did age catch up to me overnight?  Lots of ridiculous things go through ones mind (at least my mind) when things aren’t going well.  I might have just quit there and then, but I had other races already paid for.

A mere 7 days later, I found myself at the start line of the Collegiate Peaks 50 miler with my head full of these doubts.  By the time I sprinted the last few miles to the finish line, I had beaten my goal time and missed even splitting the course by a mere 2 minutes.  I was back in the game!


With 2 weeks of rest and the mixed emotions of my erratic performances, I headed to the north rim of the Grand Canyon for another UA race and 100 number 5.  One typically expects mild weather in Arizona, in May, but we started out the race in 6” of fresh snow and temperatures well below freezing.  Running a relatively smart race, I found myself in 4th place at the halfway mark - just where I wanted to be.  After quickly making up time on the leaders over the next 20 miles, I had increasingly delusional dreams of standing on the podium, or perhaps even a 2nd place spot.  Unfortunately, my body and mind could not not keep it up and the leaders didn’t slow down as I had planned for them to do.  Though I remained in 4th to the finish, I did manage to run almost exactly to the pace that I had planned out - small victory.


Bryce was going to be interesting.  It was my first 100 just a year ago and I had high expectations, despite the fact that I spent 2 weeks at sea level, got off the plane and headed straight for Utah.  Despite feeling pretty decent early on, by mile 25 I was fading noticeably.  As it turned out, I was fighting some kind of a flu-like bug, evidenced by the lethargy, headaches, and slight fever.  The long hailstorm didn’t help any, as I was stuck out there with nothing but a thin shirt.  In the end, I survived the hypothermic conditions, and trudged on.  Overnight, I felt more sleepy than ever before and was surprised to make it to the next aid station without falling flat on my sleeping face.  After an hour’s nap, I got up and pushed on to the finish, beating that punk, Travis, despite my condition ;-)


The North Fork 50 miler was 3 weeks later and I had a decent performance, though I missed breaking the 9 hour mark by mere seconds.

Two weeks after that, it was off to another UA race at Capitol Reef, this time taking the whole family along on a mini-vacation.  My camera died as soon as I turned it on, and my new Garmin Fenix 2 was a worthless weight around my wrist as it couldn’t pick up satellites on top of a freaking mesa.  This is truly an awesome race course that quickly transitions from the typical Utah desert and sandstone, through aspens, and on up to the top of a granite mesa dotted with lakes at 11,000’.  It was one of my very favorite races of the year - not as much non-stop scenery as Monument Valley, but much more diversity and seclusion.  I ran a great race through about mile 70 and then kind of fell apart.  The last 30 miles seemed to take forever, but somehow I managed to hold on for 2nd place overall.


The last UA race was Tushars - 93 kilometers through some of the most mountainous terrain that Utah has to offer.  It really felt like I was in the Colorado peaks the whole time, or singing "The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music" in the Alps. I was supposed to run the 100 mile version of this race, but luckily, there were not enough entrants.  Running a second loop of this rugged course would have been beyond brutal.  As it was, I did pretty well, but ran out of water on the last big climb and slowed down more than I would have liked.  It was also my 4th and final trouncing of Travis for the year.  This time, I literally caught him with his pants down (taking a potty break off the side of the mountain).

Three weeks later, it was time for the big one - Leadville.  With Mitch and Bret as pacers, and Bret’s wife as a crew, I had awesome support.  I ran really well the entire race, except I just didn’t have any strength on the climbs.  Unfortunately, there are a couple of climbs on this race and that cost me some time.  Unlike last year, I maintained my pace pretty much through the end and had no stomach issues.  I even gave Bob Sweeney a run for his money on the last segment, though he bested me by about 10 minutes in the end.  And for the second year in a row, the local stoners had their impromptu aid station set up at the top of Powerline - AWESOME!



September was a crazy month!  I ran the Lakewood Trail series, which consisted of 4 4-7 miles races on Wednesday nights.  At the last minute, I decided to try a 24 hour race - the American Heroes Run.  I didn’t have a great day, but I managed to log over 100 miles, win, and set another course record.  Two days later, I paced the 3:45 group at the ADT marathon in Colorado Springs.  And less than two weeks after that, I ran Run Rabbit Run, finishing 3rd overall (in the Tortoise division).  I had a decent race, but slowed after about 80 miles.  Then I kicked it into high gear, running sub-7 minute miles at the end to try to break the 25 hour mark, which according to my Garmin, I did, but according to the official clock, I was at 25 on the dot.



With one week of rest after RRR, I stupidly decided to take advantage of the free entry I was offered for the Bear Chase 100K (for winning the previous year).  With the hot temperatures and minimal rest, I ran perfectly for the first 3 laps, then totally fell apart on the 4th, mainly due to dehydration.  Since I was feeling like crap, and missing out on time with my family, I cut it short and bailed at 50 miles, though I was finally starting to recover.

The month of October consisted of too much food, very little running, and lots of rest.  This resulted in adding a few pounds and losing some fitness.  So, come Halloween, I went into the Javelina Jundred with low expectations.  At the start line, my Garmin 310 decided to take the day off, so I was running blind, though at least with the multi-loop course, it wasn’t such a big deal.  I surprised myself by running the first 3 loops really well.  Unfortunately I slowed down a bit more than planned over the next 3, but I had a strong finish on the final half-loop and managed to take 40 minutes off of last year’s time and break the 19 hour mark.

In November, I had the privilege of being featured in an article in the Colorado Springs Independent - thank you to Tim Bergsten.

Javelina was my 11th hundred of the year, and I was thinking that I would run Across the Years as my final and 12th, but…  I came across this Ultra Centric 24 Hour race outside of Dallas.  It was 3 weeks after Javelina, which was a perfect amount of time to recover and the the weekend before Thanksgiving meant that I might get my weight back under control before the feasting.  An additional perk was that the 1st place prize was a ¼ ounce of gold, which would have been worth over $400 earlier this year.  So off I went, driving non-stop across the deserted wasteland (aka Texas), only to show up the evening before the race to find that the park was closed and there was not a single person around.  After some cursing, panicking, more cursing, and some sleuthing, I discovered that the race had been moved a few miles away because the park had suffered flood damage earlier in the year.  This is one of the only races that I didn't sign up for in advance, so I never got an update email.  The course was changed from a 2 mile out and back to a .51 mile loop, with about 10-12’ of elevation gain per lap.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but when you multiply it hundreds of times, it adds up.  Having never run more than a marathon on pavement, I fared pretty well, until the blisters started forming, and then some tibial tendinitis, and after the 100 mile mark, some severe Achilles tendinitis.  I pushed through the pain and won, with a total of 137.75 miles.  This got me a gold coin, and a chance to run in the Desert Solstice Track Invitational, which requires 137 miles as a minimum qualifier.

I have never beaten my body up so bad as I did at the Ultra Centric race.  After all the previous 100 milers, I could hit the elliptical the next day and start jogging within a few days.  This time, I had big, fat kankles, and could barely hobble down stairs for days after.  I focused all of my efforts on rehabilitating my Achilles (see my story here), and 1 week before the Solstice, I stupidly registered, after only 2 test runs of 5 and 8 miles.

The Desert Solstice Invitational is like no other race I have ever taken part of.  There were only 22 runners, so Aravaipa focused on the needs of each individual.  They arranged for a ride from the airport, and would have provided a host family for me to stay with, had I not had family in the area.  They also provided me with pretty much everything I needed during the race, as far as fuel and hydration.

Despite all of the miles I have raced, and the few lucky successes I have had, being among 21 elite athletes was a bit intimidating, though every single one of them turned out to be incredibly nice, down to earth, and generously supportive.  Everyone got a good laugh when I told them that I had never run a single lap on a track before.  Unfortunately, the beating I took at Ultra Centric, along with the subsequent recovery period left me a bit below my best, and I pulled the plug at 100 mile in 17:25.  That was a bit disappointing, but the HUGE success was that my Achilles issues were behind me.  The overall experience was amazing.  Mark Richtman broke the 60-69 50K WORLD RECORD (and other world and national records on the way).  Zach broke his own national 100 mile record by over 6 minutes.  Bob Hearn broke the 50-59 national 24 hour record.  And Pete Kostelnik won with 163+ miles.  By the way, on his way to this amazing achievement, Pete had an encouraging “way to go, Adrian” or “looking strong, Adrian” every single time he passed me (and he passed me many, many times).


All in all, it was a pretty awesome year and I was extremely fortunate to be able to run so many miles and so many incredible races. A huge thank you to Ultra Adventures for helping to make it possible!